Philosophy TV discussion with Richard Brown

In 2011 Richard Brown (CUNY) and I recorded this 60-minute discussion about consciousness for Philosophy TV. Physicalists find it hard to accept the existence of ‘classic’ qualia (intrinsic, ineffable, private properties of experience), but can they plausibly hold that we have only ‘zero’ qualia (dispositions to judge that we have classic qualia)? Is there a coherent ‘diet’ notion of qualia, which is intermediate between the two? Richard and I discussed these and related issues.

Watch on Philosophy TV’s Vimeo channel.

The Philosophy TV page for the discussion, with and associated comment thread.

Interview with Daniel Dennett

Consciousness explained

I recorded this interview with Daniel Dennett in 2004 to accompany my Open University textbook on consciousness. Professor Dennett talked about issues surrounding intentionality and consciousness and about his belief that consciousness can be scientifically explained. The interview is a companion to an interview with David Chalmers recorded at the same time.

Here is a transcript of the interview (pdf).

Interview with David Chalmers

The hard problem

In 2004 I conducted this audio interview with David Chalmers to accompany my textbook on consciousness for the Open University course Thought and Experience. We talked about his articulation of the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness and his defense of a property dualist position.

Here is a transcript of the interview (pdf)

The Evil Trolley Problem

Photo of child on railway line

On Tuesday I posted a question on Twitter (prompted by a remark by @bowmanthebard). The question involved a version of the trolley problem, in which one has to choose between letting die and actively killing, but with the twist that the motive for choosing the active option is not to minimize loss of life (in this version it might actually increase it) but to preserve a life especially dear to one.

As the question generated some interest, I thought I would set out the thought experiment in more detail here. Another Twitter user @gjfitzgerald described my question as evil, since there is no way to answer it without guilt, so I call it The Evil Trolley Problem (not a perfect name, I admit, since it’s ambiguous). I’m not an ethicist, and I don’t know if this particular scenario has been previously discussed in the literature (if it has, I’d be grateful for references), though I’m sure the underlying issues have. My tweet provoked a number of responses — some darkly humorous — which I have collated with Storify.

Here is the problem:

You are walking by the railway line, where a group of local children are playing. Suddenly, there is a shout and you see that a runway trolley is thundering down the track. You run to warn the children and see that one child is trapped on the line. With horror you realize that it is your own child. The trolley will certainly kill your child if you do not act. Luckily, you are close to the points, and by operating a manual lever you can divert the trolley onto another track. But as you grasp the lever, you notice that another child, not known to you, is trapped on the other track. If you pull the lever, the trolley will certainly kill them.

What would you do? There are only seconds left and there is no other option. Would you sacrifice an unknown child to save your own? If you would switch the trolley, would do the same if it it would result in more deaths? What if there were two children trapped on the other line or if there were a school bus stalled there? How many children would you sacrifice to save your own child?

The scenario is of interest because what most of us would do in the imagined situation is in contrast to what moral theory tells us we should do. I suspect that most of us would switch the trolley, even if it would result in many deaths. Yet I doubt if there are many moral theories that would dictate that course, or even judge it permissible, and most legal systems would, I assume, class it as murder. This in turn raises wider questions about how far moral theory should bend to human nature, and how we can reconcile our intense preference for our kin with our ideals of altruism and egalitarianism.

Image credit

Chart topper

In February 2016, my Philosophy Bites interview on the Hard Problem and the Illusion of Qualia reached #1 on the US Top Episodes Podcasts Charts, as reported in this tweet by Steve Wilson, Marketing Manger at Apple Podcasts.

Screenshot of podcast chart

A. E. Housman: When I watch the living meet

Recorded 15 February 2016

John Donne: The Sun Rising

Recorded 14 February 2016

Edward Thomas: Adlestrop

Recorded 28 January 2016

William Shakespeare: Sonnet 94

Recorded 2 January 2016

William Shakespeare: Sonnet 30

Recorded 26 November 2015